"I'm just standing for something." Throughout the entire Super Bowl anti-abortion advertising controversy, Tim Tebow has done a fantastic job falling on the sword for his cause. Too bad consumers, football fans, and activists are being played by CBS.
Tebow's initial comments framed the tone for much of the debate:
"Some people won't agree with it, you know, but I think they can at least respect that I stand up for what I believe," Tebow said.
From a media standpoint, this was a shrewd move. Tebow effectively changed the conversation by making a play to reframe the criticism. Notice, he did not say "I believe abortion should be illegal" - he said, "I am just standing up for what I believe." The subtle switch allowed people to focus less on what he was actually saying and more on the idea of the quarterback as an honorable man.
Sports Illustrated took the bait:
He will be the quarterback he is. Coaches will draft him, or they won't. He will believe what he believes. Fans will love him, or they won't.
Today's AdAge discusses the impact of Tebow's stance on future endorsements, and David Carter, executive director of the University of Southern California Sports Business Institute, lets fly with the idea that taking a stand is something to be lauded:
"Tebow should be all right because, unlike many athletes, he has been articulately outspoken and done so with a calm confidence about so many things, including his interests and beliefs," he said. "Because of this track record, he won't be as polarizing as some athletes. In this era where many consumers believe athletes will say and do anything for a buck, he may just be different. This doesn't mean that he won't alienate a number of fans or consumers, simply that many will find his consistency refreshing."
People in the public eye take stands for all sorts of things - Tebow is being promoted as some brave soul when what he is doing is actually quite ordinary. Many people use their celebrity as a way to promote a cause. Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger became famous for saving 155 lives by successfully landing a distressed plane in the Hudson River. Soon after, he appeared on television discussing the plight of pilots and has also advocated for other causes. Normal. Nothing special about it.
However, most of the outrage isn't about Tim Tebow as a person. (I'd venture to say most people who don't follow football don't give two shits about this kid.) The outrage stems from the growing anti-choice climate in this country, and CBS's hypocritical broadcasting decisions.
While media manipulating sensationalists like Sarah Palin are trying to shift the debate back to anti-choice doublespeak - "women should be reminded that they are strong enough and smart enough to make decisions that allow for career and educational opportunities while still giving their babies a chance at life," she says in a new Facebook post - the real story here is why CBS chose to reverse its long standing policy against controversial messages. (Hint: $$$.)
The official statement from CBS is a bunch of bullshit.
"We have for some time moderated our approach to advocacy submissions after it became apparent that our stance did not reflect public sentiment or industry norms," said CBS spokesman Dana McClintock, according to the AP. "In fact, most media outlets have accepted advocacy ads for some time."
McClintock said CBS "will continue to consider responsibly produced ads from all groups for the few remaining spots in Super Bowl XLIV."
This appears to be a very recent change in policy. So what gives? CBS keeps trying to pretend that these ads met some kind of responsibility criteria, but advertising publications are telling a different story. Major companies like FedEx and Pepsi are sitting out the Super Bowl, taking tens of millions of dollars with them, and as more and more advertisers start to believe the largest sporting event of the year isn't the best place to draw in eyeballs, networks are trying to come up with ways to stem the shortfall; if one of those ways just so happens to be taking a few million off the hands of a church with questionable practices, so be it. CBS has also makes a point to note that there are still spots available to advertise during the Super Bowl, if one of the aggrieved women's rights groups wants to cough up $3 million in reponse.
Unfortunately, CBS probably considers its decision a marketing success:
"People are talking about this commercial two weeks prior to the advertising — it's good for the person buying the ad, good for the networks. I don't believe there's a negative. And that's without having any opinion of the content," said Bob Horowitz, president of Juma Entertainment and executive producer "Super Bowl's Greatest Commercials," which will air on CBS on Feb. 3.
Tim Tebow Won't Hide From NFL Scouts — Or Hide His Beliefs [Sports Illustrated]
College Football Star's Beliefs Could Scare off Some Marketers, Experts Say [Advertising Age]
Sarah Palin Wishes NOW Was More Pro Woman [The Awl]
CBS justifies 30-Second Tim Tebow Anti-Abortion Ad, standing by its choice to air spot [NY Daily News]
Why FedEx Chose Orange Bowl Over Super Bowl [Adweek]
PepsiCo Not Advertising Beverages During Super Bowl XLIV [Pepsi]
Super Bowl ad featuring quarterback Tebow, mother riles abortion rights groups [Washington Post]